The book includes vivid accounts of the attempts by Standard oil to achieve a monopoly on American Oil production and distribution, of the key role played by oil in both the world wars, of the exploitation of oil-producing nations by the giant distributors, and of the ways in which the producing nations have lately turned the tables and begun to exploit the consuming nations. Underlying this dramatic history is a continuing theme of misuse, from the incredible waste of oil during the early strikes to its over-consumption in the industrialized nations today.
Oil is the lifeblood of the twentieth century. During the centuries when this western knowledge of petroleum was beginning to fade, the Chinese were starting to use oil. Some two thousand years ago the apparently came upon oil and natural gas while drilling for the salt water from which salt would eventually be obtained through evaporation. French and British explorers found oil in what later became the United States; but they made no reports of oil in the Allegheny region, which would later become the birth place of the modern petroleum industry.
Like many oil men who followed him, George Bissell thought big. He wanted no less than to light the lamps of America and the world with petroleum. In the 1840s worldwide illumination was scarcely better than it had been a thousand years earlier. Late in the eighteenth century Benjamin Franklin invented an improved oil lamp and, refusing to take out a patent, donated it to his countrymen. It quickly became popular. But even with this and other improvements, most people who could afford artificial illumination in the 1800s still used candles or lamps with open flames burning animal or vegetable oils.
In 1860 an estimated 200,000 to 500,000 barrels of oil were produced in the oil...